after its division between India and Pakistan, Kashmir, a region prized for its
resources and rugged beauty, remains embroiled in a violent tug-of-war between
the two nations, while many of its own leaders continue to seek sovereignty.
Britain divided its Indian colony into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority
Pakistan, Kashmir, a semi-autonomous, Muslim majority region along the border,
was split between the two countries, with India receiving the lion's share. Those
map lines and the continued tensions between the two religious groups sowed the
seeds for decades of violence and geopolitical struggle.
"The conflict over
Kashmir has been the chief source of tension between the two great nations and
has resulted in tremendous costs for the region -- mounting death toll, impact
on economic growth, military buildup, rise in extremism and psychological stress,
especially in the Kashmir region itself," the Kashmir Study Group, associated
with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., reported
in July 2003.
The region is home to a strong economy, centered on high-valued
agriculture products, such as saffron and almonds, and known for its handicrafts,
including jewelry and scarves. It also has the potential to be a major tourist
"Potentially, the tourist industry could support the economy
to the extent of, say, Switzerland's," said author and professor Philip Oldenburg
of Columbia University's Department of South Asian Studies.
economic potential may explain why its neighbors covet it and inhabitants fiercely
But journalist Yoginder Sikand, author of "Peace, Religion and
Dialogue in Kashmir," said it's not economics, politics or even religion at the
root of the tensions and prejudices held in the region, but nationalism.
do routinely invoke religion," he said. "I don't think the Kashmiri issue is a
religious issue. It's a Kashmiri nationalist issue. It's not because the Kashmiris
are Muslims, it's because they think of themselves a separate nationality."
India and Pakistan gained independence in 1947, the Princely State of Jammu and
Kashmir was led by Sikh ruler Hari Singh, who took power in 1925. Because the
state was almost entirely Muslim, it was assumed the region would become part
of the newly formed Pakistan. Singh, however, felt his state deserved to be independent.
then launched guerilla attacks on the state in order to pressure Singh into joining
Pakistan. British Viceroy to India Louis Mountbatten offered to protect Kashmir
if the region joined India. Singh's decision to side with India lead to the first
Pakistani-Indian war over the region. When the division was finally settled upon,
India maintained control over two-thirds of Kashmir with Pakistan controlling
"The people were not asked what they wanted," said Sikand. "[Indian
Prime Minister Jawaharlal] Nehru promised that they would gain independence when
peace was restored, and I think at that time he should have kept his promise."
independence, the state became the rallying cry for both Indian and Pakistani
leaders. Two more wars over the region occured in 1965, when Pakistan attempted
to seize the rest of Kashmir, and in 1999.
"It seems India and Pakistan
can't stop fighting over it," said Oldenburg. "People worry that the conflict
could escalate into full-scale war between them."
India rules about one-half of the region, entitled Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan
controls about one-third, the Northern areas and Azad Kashmir, and the remaining
eastern region is controlled by China.
Although there hasn't been a full-fledged
war since 1999, tensions continue to run high among Pakistan, India and the rulers
of Kashmir, and the quest for nuclear superiority has not helped matters.
weapons make a military solution rationally insane, but someone might try it anyway,"
said Stephen Philip Cohen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and a specialist
on South Asian studies.
Oldenburg said he believes the best solution for
the Kashmiri people would be to gain independence.
"I think 'the Kashmiri
people' should decide, and outsiders -- particularly those in Delhi and Islamabad
-- should try and work out ways of giving them a chance to do so, without artificial
choices being forced on them," he said.
The Kashmir Study Group has proposed
"a significant degree of autonomy, bordering on independence, for the Kashmiri-speaking
areas, to which non-Kashmiri areas would be welcome to join," Oldenburg added.
said although "the average Kashmiri would like to be independent," some religious
minorities, including Buddhists and followers of Shia Islam, within Kashmir would
prefer the region join India.
"The argument is that India will accept all
religions. Being part of India actually promotes the secular myth," he said.
so the struggle continues, but as the Kashmir Study Group points out: "It is important
to end civil strife and the tragic destruction of life and property in Kashmir.
Resolving the principal issue that could lead to further armed -- and potentially
nuclear -- conflict between India and Pakistan, would go far toward diminishing
dangerous political tensions in South Asia."
In addition to the clear-cut
wars that have been fought over the territory, Islamic extremist groups have taken
up the cause of a Muslim Kashmir, for decades using Pakistan as a base for attacks
in the India-controlled parts of Jammu Kashmir. These bloody insurgent attacks
have repeatedly sparked violent crackdowns by Indian forces in the region and
have further complicated the political reality of the region.
and India work to build more dialogue between their two governments, the issue
of Kashmir and the efforts by some to gain the independence first sought 60 years
ago remains the most significant and problematic issue with prospects for a final
political solution far from certain.